I’m writing this article for a specific audience: those who come from a city or an otherwise densely populated area,and have been unhappy at Williams. Hopefully this audience consists of more people than me, lest my publishing be environmentally wasteful. I think there isn’t enough open dialogue about dissatisfaction at Williams. The complaints that do exist get drowned out in the general din of hyperbolic praise for the College. In the case that there are other people unhappy for similar reasons, I’d like to get a conversation going about having a difficult time at Williams. Finally I’ll offer a personal solution, with the hope that someone finds it useful.
I spent my first two and a half years at Williams frequently dispirited, though I couldn’t figure out why. I had moments of happiness, as well as friends I loved. Yet a foul mood persisted. It wasn’t until the fall of my junior year that clarity graced me – at the time of its choosing, as always – and the source of my troubles condensed in front of me. It seemed too simple but there it was: I was unhappy because I still hadn’t made the transition from New York City to Williamstown.
When I applied to Williams, I didn’t appreciate how different life here would be apart from an upgrade in the scenery. I was so won over by the physical beauty, reputation and academic intimacy that I convinced myself Williams would be different only in a quaint, agreeable way.
It wasn’t. When I came here I felt trapped, deprived of privacy and bored. None of these feelings followed me when I returned home. Upon arriving to Williams I became less mobile. Without a car, I couldn’t leave this small area without exerting considerable effort. I couldn’t leave my apartment as I did at home and walk for miles without the possibility of reaching the town limits, nor take myself anywhere on the subway for two dollars. For this reason I felt a drastic reduction in personal freedom, the worst since before my parents first allowed me to ride the MTA alone.
Williams offered less privacy than a densely populated area – and I am aware that this is counterintuitive to non-city dwellers. Everyone is a recognizable face at Williams. On the sidewalks of a large city, each face is seen for the first time, and in this setting, when no one around knows you or ever will, a person can experience privacy. At Williams I found there was no longer the cushion of strangers. The public arena was one in which acquaintances commented when I wore the same shirt two days in a row. When I got a haircut, I prepared to have it talked about it. There was no break from the public eye.
On top of that, there was reduced opportunity for spontaneity and exploration. In Williamstown, I could sled, bowl, play board games, play sports, many things. But I couldn’t try a new restaurant. Or go see a new play on a weekday. There was simply less to explore, fewer new worlds waiting to be discovered, and many wonderful opportunities Williams was deprived of by its rural location. This was the truth, I thought.
Thankfully, I’m in a better place now. I believe I’ve found the key to happiness at Williams. I found it this fall when I was cast in a play with actors and a director that I love and am inspired by. The solution is simple: create, produce, generate material. Although you can’t try a new restaurant, you do have every opportunity in the world to be creative. If you want to write a play, you can have it produced, easily. If you want to write an article, you can have it published by the Record. You can create a Winter Study 99 to document the formation of your own rock band. The primary beauty of Williams is that if you go about it in the right way, it will force you to become a more creative person. I’ve been happy now that I’ve begun saying “yes” to every opportunity. I’ve awakened my creative spirit.
My advice is that if you want to bring anything to life, do it. This is not possible in a city, not at a larger school. Just keep yourself on your toes, involve yourself, produce despite worrying that you’re too busy – you’ll get it done. The worst feeling here is feeling bored and like you’re going nowhere. This is the feeling you have to combat, and it won’t come from any place but yourself. Publish, write music, start something that hasn’t been done here before. Not because you want to improve the place, not because you have a love of Williams, but because you need to make Williams the place that grabs your attention. So, fill the space that’s been given you.
Eric Phillips ’09 is a religion major from New York, N.Y.